New York Allowing Nursing Home Visitation

The Isabella Center nursing home in New York.  (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

New York state is restoring visitation in nursing homes on a limited basis, Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker announced Friday, nearly four months after visitors were banned from nursing homes and hospitals due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Nursing homes and long-term-care facilities that have been without COVID-19 for at least 28 days will be allowed to resume limited visitations, per guidance by the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Zucker said. Each resident will be permitted two visitors at a time, at least one of whom must be at least 18 years old, but only 10 percent of a facility’s residents may have visitors at any one time. Visitors must undergo temperature checks, wear face coverings and maintain social distance during the visit.

“I know how painful it has been for residents of these facilities to endure such a long period of time without seeing family and loved ones,” Zucker said, “and my hope is that this adjustment to the visitation policy will provide some comfort to everyone.”

The pandemic has particularly decimated New York’s nursing homes, which account for nearly 6,300 of the more than 31,000 COVID-19 deaths in the state. There In some cases, residents’ families have alleged neglect, due to a lack of oversight resulting from the visitation ban. Zucker and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have come under sharp criticism for an executive order in late March barring nursing homes from refusing to admit COVID-19 patients. Critics blame that executive order for the spread of the virus in nursing homes. But Cuomo has said the executive order was merely following guidance from the federal government, and a report released by the state Health Department on Monday blamed the deadly spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes on infected staff members, rather than on the admission of infected patients.

Visitors had been banned from nursing homes and hospitals since a mid-March executive order. They were allowed back into hospitals last month.

In his statement Friday announcing the resumption of nursing-home visits, Zucker said, “It is critical that as we resume visitations to these facilities we do it in a smart and cautious way to ensure the health and safety of residents and staff,” considering that “COVID-19 came into nursing homes mainly through asymptomatic staff and visitors” – a possible attempt to once again dispute those who blame nursing-home deaths on the executive order mandating admission of COVID-19 patients.

Zucker on Friday also announced the resumption of on-site visitation for the state’s Long Term Care Ombudsman program, which provides additional support to residents of nursing homes and long-term-care facilities, starting July 15.

Elected officials and activists who have been advocating for months to allow visitation in hospitals and nursing homes applauded Friday’s announcement.

“It’s about time that people are able to visit their loved ones in nursing homes,” state Sen. Simcha Felder told Hamodia. “This prohibition took a massive emotional toll on residents and their loved ones. This critical change marks the start of healing that I’m sure will save lives.”

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